Marvel: Ultimate Alliance, to me, is a childhood fantasy kind of game. The world Ultimate kind of backs that, because I said that word a lot when I was young and imagining myself with the ability to kinetically charge playing cards like Gambit and just blowing away everything around me. Of course I was also beating up a lot of really bad people. With that in mind, it’s fortunate to see that the sequel is taking that core concept and taking things to the extreme. Apparently, developers at Vicarious Visions had similar feelings.
In my brief hands-off time with the game at GDC, I was shown a number of new additions in the game, but it was prefaced with establishing that the game will be set within the Civil War story arch in the Marvel universe, where a catastrophe leaves America debating whether superheroes should have to have their identities and powers registered. A rift is created in the superhero world, with heroes taking side for the Registration Act (Security) or against (Liberty). Vicarious Visions made it clear that they are aiming for a complex and deep story with this game, and with the Civil War arch as compelling as it sounds, that certainly seems attainable. Giving players the choice between the two sides will also make for very distinct means of unfolding narrative, and hopefully give the raw action a little more weight that we’re not used to in these types of games.
The core gameplay is one that will be familiar to anyone that played the first. You get a bird’s eye view of the action below, which has a handful of superheroes duking out swarms of enemies in an effort to reach their goal and move the story along. True to sequelness, expect improved visuals as well, which will also stomach more characters on screen at a time. A bigger bragging point this time out is roster. Boasting 24 announced characters and even the possibility of downloadable heroes in the future, why wouldn’t it? Given the setting, players get to choose their team and which side of the Civil War they want to support. The two main proponents for Security, Iron Man and Mr. Fantastic, as well as the opponents in Liberty, Nick Cage and Captain America, however, are locked into one side or the other.
The rest are fair game, though, and your choice in team is a bit more significant this time around. True to its Fusion subtitle, the game offers special moves of the same name, where two heroes combine powers to make for some particularly devastating attacks. Thor and Captain America were demonstrated with a particularly neat trick where Thor blasts a steady stream of lightning at the Captain’s shield, who then uses the deflection to aim at surrounding enemies. Considering the massive number of possibilities here, it will be fun to watch how all the different heroes can interact with each other. Also, it’s important to mention that you can swap out heroes in your roster any time, so if Wolverine and Storm just aren’t getting along, feel free to replace either one with Human Torch, or whomever you wish. Pulling this with friends in multiplayer also sounds like oodles of fun waiting to happen.
In addition, there are RPG elements that the player can get into, souping up their characters as they see fit. But Vicarious Visions doesn’t want this to be a turn off to the players who aren’t into the menus and the numbers, so that can all be streamlined and done by the AI if that’s preferred. The idea is for everyone to be able to pick up the game and enjoy it to the level they want to enjoy it, and get the same great experience.
It looked fun, and like something I’d want to play with some friends knowing full well I have important work to address. However, between getting to be a superhero and rocking multitudes of faces like I would as a kid with some action figures or a baseball bat and some of my friends and doing things that make me money… well, the game comes out in Fall for Xbox 360, PS3, and Wii, so the choice will be quite simple by then.